This is the most wonderful place on Earth. It is a place of serenity, a place where you can relax and a place where the sky is forever.
Reached either by plane from Glasgow, or by ferry from Uig on Skye, or from Oban this is a wildlife/wild flower heaven.
The coastline is fringed by fertile meadowland called machair where you can see colourful flowers in abundance from May to August. The beaches are empty and are of pure white sand and on a sunny day the water is turquoise.
In July you can see short eared owls sitting on fence posts looking for food to feed their young, and all along the coastline there are sea otters. You may need a bit of patience here as otters can be elusive, but if you see them you will never forget it.
To the north lies the beautiful island of Berneray now linked by a causeway which makes for an exciting drive especially on a windy day. The south road passes through Benbecula to South Uist and to the little island of Eriskay also joined by a causeway.
The islands have the long summer days when it is light until 11pm, but in the winter it is dark until mid morning and darkness falls again mid afternoon. If you are lucky in the winter you may see The Northern Lights.
Sometimes when I go there I have to pinch myself because you look out to sea from a sunny spot on the hillside and wonder at the sheer beauty of a landscape few in Britain will ever have seen.
True the weather can be harsh. In 2005 a family from South Uist died there in a tragic accident when they tried to escape from their coastal home in winds of over 100 miles an hour. This news was overshadowed at the time by the tsunami which happened during a similar time period.
If you visit there you will be welcomed by the Hebridean hospitality which is second to none. You will find Co-ops with lovely food at good prices but beware the petrol is very expensive. There are some good places serving food and some hotels open to non residents.
It isn't rich in facilities, there are no charges to park, and you can wander in most places with freedom. It is possible to walk everywhere as you respect the land remembering to close farm gates and to observe the Sunday as a special day.
It is a place to go and be. By that I mean to watch. You will be rewarded by something which is not for sale, just to see an ever changing vision of turquoise sea and sky in all directions will make you feel you have gone to a place not many will have seen before you.
I have taken my photos and people have said to me "Is That The Maldives?" -well on a sunny day it could be!
Beware though we have lost one roof box to the high winds and it is sometimes difficult to open the car door when the gusts of wind are severe.
If you love sheep,cows,birds,otters,seals, beaches,waves and remote places you will arrive here and think you are in heaven- for that is what it is "my heaven". I hope you can share it too!
Also posted on Ciao by myself under the user name Violet1278
It may not be the most glamorous holiday destination but i love it and here's why.
MY FIRST TIME
The other half is Scottish. He grew up in Glasgow but his mum was from Benbecula .Which appears on the map to be a stepping stone between North and South Uist.
So he spent most of his holidays there. After we had our first child he wanted to take us both up and let the family see his son. I must admit i did start thinking i should of met someone from a more exotic location!
I started to imagine spending a week in the middle of no-where and in the pouring rain bored out of my tiny mind. But i agreed to go and stocked up on books to read.
We decided to drive up and with a small baby we thought it would be best to do this through the night and stop when he got tired. So we set off from Kent,
Sorry can't tell you much about the first part of the journey as i slept through most of it.
So eventually we got to Glasgow and stayed over with family so he could get some sleep and then the next day we started off again.
The first thing i noticed was that Scotland is very green even driving through the towns. And seeing as i was brought up in a concrete jungle this was quite strange to me.
The first main stop we got to was Loch Lomand, which is absolutely gorgeous.
There are a lot of B&B's which all charge different prices. There is also a camp if you prefer roughing it (he keeps threatening me with this).
Then on to Fort William & Ben Nevis the drive to here is spectacular. The waterfalls and mountains are out of this world. If we stopped at all the places i wanted to we would never have got there.
Just pass Ben Nevis is Spearn Bridge which was an old mill turned into a tourist shop and restaurant. A good place to stop for a meal. The food is great, especially the soup.
There is also the commando memorial, which is worth paying a visit.
Then on to Skye.
Before the skye bridge was built you could only get across to skye by ferry and these were quite small so you could be queuing for ages but then they built the bridge. There was a lot of controversy about the bridge as it became the most expensive toll bridge in the country and even the locals had to pay.
The first time we went over the bridge there was a big demonstration against the charge. On the 21/12/04 the charges were lifted.And now you can drive across free of charge.
We then drove on to the ferry terminal at Uig.
You can stay over night if you want to break the journey ,there are a few B&Bs and also the small hotel The ferry Inn, which is nice and cosy and also has a nice restaurant and a good fry up in the morning! it is also a pub which suits the other half.
The western isles know Uig as the stepping-stone you can get the ferry here to most of the islands.
They used to run steamboats across but were replaced by car ferries in 1968.
Caledonian Mcbride run the ferries and they usually run 2 per day in the summer season and 1 a day during the winter. If the weather is bad then the ferries are off.
The prices also vary, in the summer months you can pay between £150-£180 and lower in the winter months. You can also get a island hopper ticket, which means you can visit a few of the islands. You can book this on line www.calmac.co.uk . This is for a car and 4 people. We got the ferry to Lochmaddy.
When you arrive at the terminal you can park in the queue, show your tickets to the steward and go off for a look around.
If you want to you can visit the uig pottery store that makes all their own pottery on site and then the other halfs favourite the skye brewery!
Just make sure you are back in time to board otherwise you will end up like me.
I had taken the baby into the toilet to change a nice smelly nappy when the otherhalf burst in said something about moving the car and ran out again. When i got out all the cars had gone onto the ferry and i had to run down the long pier with baby and his bag. I just made it onto the ferry and the other half pretended not to know me!!
The ferry is ok, it has a restaurant which is a bit expensive, a small childs play room and of course a bar!
The journey takes under 2 hours in good conditions.
It hit me so fast when we got off the ferry ,i was home. It was the weirdest feeling i suddenly felt very calm and peaceful.
We drove from Lochmaddy down to Benbecula.
You have to drive over the causeway, which is a long road over the sea. Before this was built the locals had to wait for the tides to go out before they could go to north or south uist.
Also a lot of the roads have single track and passing places.The road signs also have dual language. Gaelic & English. To be honest i'm glad i wasn't driving.
The drive was beautiful, the sun was shinning and the water in the Lochs was a deep blue. The first thing i noticed was there were no trees, a lot of bushes,heather and hills but no trees!
And the breeze, there is always a breeze or if you are unlucky strong wind. But on the plus side it does keep the midges away!
There is a lot of places to stay on the island including B & Bs, The dark island hotel and a camp site.
We are lucky, the other halfs family have 2 houses and a farm and we stay in a self-catering house called gramsdale Inn that is owned by relatives.
The house has 3 bedrooms and sleeps 7 people. It has a large kitchen with all mod cons, dinning room, lounge & bathroom. They charge about £250 per week. Pending on the season.
It also has a large garden that the kids love. It backs on to a field and then the ford.
THINGS TO DO, PLACES TO SEE
If you like a lot of excitment then this is not the place for you. If you like relaxing and fishing then you will love it here.
The ford is good for fishing, cockling & mucking about in rock pools. You do have to be careful of the tides as they can be a bit decieving and come in behind you. We spend hours down here as the boys love it.
The beaches are out of this world. Sandy white beaches and clear blue sea. The best beach is at culla bay, if you are lucky you will spy the seals playing. This is my mum-in-laws favourite, she spent hours here as a kid. over the years i have noticed the beach has got busier , instead of 10 people there might be 20! much to her disgust (she still thinks of it as her's). The only beach i wouldn't advise is stinky corner. Well the name explains the reason!
Fishing is also good here and we have caught a good few trout. Even i have caught a couple, but then they all take the mick because i won't touch it.
You can also walk for miles or if you are mad climb the hills.
If you are walking you must be careful as a lot of the island is built on peat and you do get peat bogs which are hidden by the heather. so wear your wellies.
You also need to take a torch if you are night walking as there is no streetlights in most places and it is very dark.
There is also horse riding, a small golf course and a small leisure centre with a nice swimming pool. This is situated in the school. It is quite a large school because it is the main school for the highlands. A lot of children spend the week with other families and go back home at the weekends.You can also find the library here which has internet accsess.
There is also is a airport on Benbecula and you can fly here from Glasgow. There is only 1 airline which is BA and the prices can vary anything from £120-£250. This usually depends on the time of year and when you book.
To be honest i have never flown up. The planes are quite small.
the planes also deliver the newspapers and they even get them on a sunday now too!!
If you go to north Uist there is a Museum and arts centre that also has a family run cafe.There is also a RSPB reserve for all the birdwatchers. And also has it's own Stonehenge!
South Uist has a golf club and also a museum and numerous beaches and ruins.
You can also go to Barra, which has a fantastic airport. the planes actually land on the beach. So no sunbathing there then!
There isn't many places to clothes shop on the island. Most people use mail order.
Food shopping is quite good. There is a Co-op and a few other supermarkets
(sorry no tesco's) There is also a fantastic jewellery shop called Hebridean jewellery that makes a lot of the stock on the premises. It also has a nice little coffee shop and sells my sons favourite sweet called tablet. It is like fudge but a lot sweeter.
Just down the road from the house we stay in is the islands bakery which delivers to most of the shops on the island.
It also has a small shop and sells some of the best cakes and pies i have ever tasted. Especially the millionaire shortbread, toffee cakes, empire biscuits,and scotch pies. The best thing is i can walk there which means i burn all those calories off!! (i wish)
There are a few pubs and restaurants; the best one is the dark island. You can eat in the restaurant or in the lounge bar there is also a back bar that has a pool table. They also have some live music and discos.
The low flyer is near the airport and you can also get take away here.
There are also 3 or 4 others that i have fallen out off!
GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND
The best way to get around is by car. You can't really get lost as you just drive round the island (I still need a map!)
There are buses and you can get the timetables from the tourist information.
You can also hire bikes or walk.
Very friendly, will always stop to help with directions.
Gaelic is the most spoken in the islands. My kids have picked up a bit, none of it repeatable!! They do also speak English.
VALUE FOR MONEY
This can be expensive, taking into account petrol, ferry prices and food but if you plan in advance you can do it cheaper.
THE WORST BITS
Apart from the end of the holiday, the weather can play a big factor in how much you can do. we have been lucky, we usually go in August and only get a bit of rain. So we take plenty of games for the kids. Sometimes they are glad for a wet day so they can actually play them.
The other one is THE MIDGES, or the smidges as my little one calls them!
If the breeze drops and it is warm they will be out. I am lucky i don't suffer too much but my older boy gets eaten alive. we have tried numerous lotions and potions but now he just runs around with a midgey hat on!!
THE BEST BITS
Where do i start. I know this would not be a lot of peoples idea of a good holiday but it's the perfect way to relax.
I love all of it but my favourite is the nights, when the sky is clear the sunsets are spectacular and the sky seems to be closer, the stars are so bright Due to lack of light pollution So i sit out there with my glass of wine and actually feel relaxed.
I have been to a few places abroad but this is my favourite place. It's not as backward as most people think. You even get mobile phone reception! (if you point your phone in the right place!) and they even have electricity!
And on these cold winter nights I can remember sitting in the heather with a glass or two and watching the sunset.
Last month we spent just over 2 weeks on the Isle of Skye and whilst we were there we took the opportunity to spend 2 days on the island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The experience was truly wonderful and now I want to share it!
Getting there and around.
North Uist with Benbecula, south Uist and Barra forms the southern chain of the western Isles. A causeway links all the islands with the exception of Barra. The tiny island of Berneray to the north is now linked to north Uist via a causeway
There are 1-2 flights daily from Glasgow to either Benbecula or Barra operated by British Airways.Barra has the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach! The flight to either location takes about an hour and at present an adult fare will cost about £130 including tax. It is possible to hire a car at either location.
Caledonian McBrayne (calmac) is the only ferry operator sailing to North Uist. Ferries leave from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Lochmaddy on North Uist .The fare is not cheap at £64 for a car and £13.95 for each adult. Children from 5-15 pay half fare and under 5s are free. There are concessions for those who have a disability. Prices go up when the summer timetable starts on 24th of March. There are 1 2 sailings a day and the crossing takes just under 2 hours. Book by phoning calmac on 01876-500337 or visit their website.
I really enjoyed the ferry crossing and our 2 children aged 2 and 7 loved the little soft play area provided. The staff both at the terminal in Uig and on board were very friendly and helpful. There is a good restaurant serving both hot and cold snacks and meals on board. We were lucky and the sea was calm but there are often storms here!
Buses on North Uist are few and far between. There are several post buses available and the tourist information office at the port of Lochmaddy will be able to give you details.
We took our car across on the ferry, but car hire is available from the airport, tel 01870-602818 for details and prices. Alternatively you could hire a car in Glasgow and take the ferry from Uig.
Bike hire is available from Morrisons cycle hire (01876-580211) They will deliver your bikes to Lochmaddy too.
What is the island like?
North Uist is only 17 miles long and 13 miles across. Freshwater lochs make up 1/3 of the landmass. It has a population of just 1,800. The island is mainly flat and the thing that first struck me was the lack of trees. The east of the Island is boggy and stark with lots of lochs. The north and west of the island has some of the most beautiful white sand beaches that I have ever seen backed by rolling hills and from the north, fantastic views to the mountains of Harris beyond.
We only had 2 full days to explore the Island which was no where near enough time to experience all this Island has to offer .The ferry from Skye arrives just before noon and so the first thing we did was seek out a beach to eat our picnic! We took the road from Lochmaddy to Clachan sands, just follow the road towards the ferry for Harris and follow the road past the graveyard. The beach is backed by sand dunes and machair (a rare form of grass that has amazing wild flowers in the spring) we were delighted to find a picnic table overlooking the beach! The weather was cold but dry and bright so we spent a few hours wondering along the white sand and the children run in and out of the gentle waves in their wellies! We had the place to ourselves apart from the numerous sea birds and a curious seal.
After lunch we decided to seek out a few of the numerous ancient monuments on the Islands. Barpa Langas to the south of the Island is a 5,000-year-old burial chamber. The chamber itself has partly collapsed and is dangerous to enter. However it is possible to look inside with the help of a torch. The cairn that tops the chamber is visible from the road. But if you want to take the short path to have a closer look wear waterproof boots! From the burial chamber we walked to see the stone circle known as Pobull Fhinn 1 km to the southeast. You will have to walk up a boggy hill to experience it but it is well worth it! The circle is not huge but the area is very atmospheric and overlooks a beautiful loch.
Further south you come to the small village of Clachan. From here take the road that leads to the Island of Benbecula. The small village of Cairnish was our next stop and having parked our car by the church we hiked through a very muddy farm to look at a ruined medieval ecclesiastical site dating from 1200. Again I found the site very atmospheric and in a beautiful setting. The site is known as Teampull na Trionad (temple)
To end the day we drove the circular road round the Island which passes Balranald nature reserve where, during the summer, you can go on guided walks to view the numerous birds that nest here, including the very rare corncrake. If we had had more time we would have made numerous stops to explore the white sand beaches we passed.
Our second day was spent on the tiny Island of Berneray, reached via a causeway from the north of the Island. The white sand beaches here are even more spectacular than those on Uist. We spent the whole day walking along the sand and were lucky enough to watch an otter frolicking in the sand dunes. I loved the peace and solitude of Berneray and vowed to return.
North Uist has a large variety of wildlife rarely seen in other parts of the U.K. We saw golden eagles, a hen harrier, otters and seals. North Uist is also a great place to watch for dolphins, whales and basking sharks.
Accommodation and eating
There are numerous bed and breakfast places available on the Island but many are closed in the winter so if you want to come you will need to book ahead. I suggest you look on the Internet under accommodation for North Uist.
I can recommend the Cairnish Inn tel 01876-580673. This is a modern looking building where doubles cost about £70.
The Langass lodge is another good place to stay although its a bit more expensive. Both the Langass lodge and the Cairnish inn are open for evening meals to non-residents and welcome children.
We chose to eat at the Lochmaddy hotel and although the food was reasonable we found the staff unfriendly and I would not recommend it. We ordered our food at the bar and then went to get warm by the fire in the deserted lounge. We were quickly told that the lounge was for residents only and sent to wait in a freezing cold dining room with our children. I dont think any of the staff even managed to smile during our visit! If you want to stay then rooms will set you back about £90.
If you want to buy picnic food then there is a very small co-op near Sollas. If you are self-catering then the NAAFI on Benbecula is open to the general public. There are also other small shops in Clachan and a reasonable range of facilities such as a bank, petrol station, doctors and tourist information centre in Lochmaddy.
As we stayed with friends I can only recommend places that they as locals have suggested so I hope its helpful!
All road signs are written in Gaelic so I suggest you call at the visitor centre (open from april-sept) to get a map that gives both the Gaelic and the English.
The weather can change very quickly here so come prepared and carry waterproofs with you.
Dont get caught out by the tides, which can come in very quickly. The beaches are wonderful to walk along and in your enjoyment it would be easy to forget about the tide!
We all loved the Island but acknowledge that 2 days is not enough time to spend here. We will return and would like to spend a few weeks enjoying the many walks, beaches and solitude!
Oh the title is North Uist in Gaelic !